Posts Tagged ‘makerspace’

CCO Creative Commons image

So, I’ve been thinking about the iterative process in Digital Fabrication, the STEAM class that I teach. The course is a minor and only a semester long. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have some goals.

One of the things my STEAM colleagues and I have been talking about is how important it is that everyone who takes a course in our department, major or minor, experiences and practices of the iterative design process. We really want students to try to make something and then try to make it better. Most importantly, we want students to believe that this process is the way design and creation work, not just what you do when something doesn’t work the first time.

What I have been noticing is that some students want to keep working on that first design until they think it is perfect before trying it out on the 3D printer or laser cutter. Here are my issues with that strategy:

  • Too much time has been spent on the initial design without any testing
  • So much time leads to so much investment and often less willingness to alter fundamental parts of the design
  • And, now there is just less time to spend on the next drafts

So, I’m looking for ways to force my students to get that “shitty first draft” (term courtesy of Ann Lamott and her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, which I am reading at the moment.) out of the way so that we can move on to the better second draft. Currently, we are working on making geared drawing machines. (We are basing our design on this Tinker Crate project.) Finally today, I gave the group a time limit to get a cardboard model built and ready. Students were in groups and I may also have said that I was also trying to complete this challenge and it would be sad if with many people to work they could not get something done and I could. I do NOT like to do that kind of thing where I put myself in competition with the students in this way, but I was desperate. I did make it clear that I had not done this project either.

In the time frame, we had 3 models. Then, we made a list of information we learned that we could take to our next versions of the various parts–actual sizes, relative sizes, pieces to be made with each tool and in each material. We also considered some ways that we would stage the creation of some of the pieces to give ourselves more margin for error. Then in a next draft, we could add in another set of specifics. And, we divided up the jobs so that we can get a next draft completed very quickly.


I think there might be something to the idea that we make several cardboard models so that we each have to wrestle with the project as a whole, and then collaborate in bigger groups or one big group to make the next version. Once we get a few more pieces ready, we can test our machine for real. If it works, I totally want one.



These are some of the Make: books that I personally own.

So I’ve been thinking about the Makerspace at my school. We have a great space, interested and devoted faculty, and the resources to work with students on many types of projects. What we don’t have yet is a maker community.

Our small but mighty group of STEAM Department faculty went the to hear the founder of Make Magazine, Dale Dougherty, speak at the Franklin Institute a few weeks ago. The event was titled: Making in America. After several introductions, it was Dale’s turn to speak. What struck me the most about his message was the fact that he did not speak about how to make things. He spent a lot of his time talking about a making mindset and a making community. It was clear to me from the way he talked about his years of work at Make Magazine was that his gift is building community. He just happened to build a community around making. I left thinking he could build a community around whatever interested him.

Our department perhaps came to the event expecting something different, yet I think this really was the message we needed to hear. The men and women in the department have a range of interests and expertise and each of us has spent time learning new skills, tools, programs, what have you. We do not lack for enthusiasm or personal will to create. There are areas of making in which we don’t currently have expertise, but that is not what is keeping us from building and vibrant maker community at our school.

When we met up a week or so after the event to talk things over, we talked as we have multiple times about getting kids into the makerspace, but I think hearing Dale talk about community for most of his talk and during the conversation later with chief astronomer Derrick Pitts made us more aware than ever that building community is our main goal. It is not just something to sort of talk about and then get back to which 3D printer is currently not working (does everyone have this conversation endlessly?) and who’s going to label the hooks on the pegboard. Those things need to happen, but the business of our department right now needs to be more focused than ever on nurturing that community. We all have anecdotal evidence of how we’ve managed to bring someone into the makerspace who then brings comes back and brings a friend. So, we brainstormed ways to trick get kids into the makerspace, but in thinking about it now, I think we might need to be more intentional in thinking how not just to get them into the space, but into our community. We recognize more clearly than before the primary importance of that mission. What are the barriers? Which ones can we easily tear down? Are we visibly modeling that we, the colleagues in the department, are a community? I think we do this one quite well, personally.  

One area where I do think a community is forming is around the Science Olympiad. There is a growing group of students who are excited and motivated to gather, work together, and build a team. Although this is not the community we imagined building first, maybe that’s not the point. Communities get to define themselves.

I still think there are makers out there in our school whom we have not brought together. We have some ideas, and we are certainly looking for more. What have you and your schools done to build a maker community?

So, I’ve been thinking about professional development lately. In addition to being part of the administration at my school, I am also part of the high school STEAM and English departments, and our division head decided to support each department in a professional development adventure this school year.

This afternoon, the STEAM department had our professional development outing. We went to Philadelphia Woodworks to learn wood turning. In our group of five, two of us (neither of them me) had used a lathe before. The nice folks at the Woodworks had the lathes all set up with blocks of wood. We had two teachers for our group who demonstrated each step and helped us along the way.

It turns out, that you can’t do wood turning left handed. I am left handed. So, here I go turning wood right handed. I am so used to reversing demos in my head that I had a hard time just straight up copying the way to hold the tools etc.


After a few hours of work, I am far from being an expert. However, it’s always instructive to be a total beginner again and think about how much information you can take in at once, how frequently you need to check in with the teacher, how hard it can be to turn even clear directions into action, how tiring it can be to concentrate really hard for a long time.

It was also a great group activity.We each left our class with a bowl we had made and headed off to the weekend.

Also, who knew I could get woodchips in all my clothes so quickly and effectively? (Imagine what happens to sand at the beach. That’s pretty much what I managed to do.)

Here we all are with our completed bowls.


So I’ve been thinking about the catapult project in my Digital Fabrication class. This is the first project in the course and the goal is for the students to gain some familiarity with the iterative design process and the 3D design software that we use.

However, this class lives in the STEAM department. The amount of art in the project was virtually nill. Earlier in the year, I already mentioned my newfound appreciation for cardboard as a makerspace material. And, I have incorporated the cardboard step in my new process here as well. However, it was too focussed on function. Although it can take people too long, in my opinion, to complete the catapult, more of that is about my management than the use or not of particular materials. Anyway, back to the Art. I vowed this go round to be more intentional about the design aspect of the project.

Here is the new process:

  • Some basic work with Tinkercad (skills based, not related to this design challenge)
  • Informal assessment of some key Tinkercad skills
  • Design walk
  • Drawings of catapult ideas
  • Cardboard
  • 3D print models, review, redesign, etc

The new steps here include the basic Tinkercad work, now unconnected to the final project (which at first seemed like a step back from an integrated approach), informal assessment, and the design walk.

CCO public domain image by Pily63 on Pixabay.

I am using this image as inspiration for my new catapult design. CCO public domain image by Pily63 on Pixabay.

The design walk was something I tried to do more informally last semester. I tried sending folks out around the campus to notice design elements in our buildings several of which have interesting and thoughtful design elements. It turns out that students going on independent design walks at the beginning of the course are not my best idea. So, this semester we went to two specific locations as a group. We went to our former library space and our newly built library space. Even though there are no longer shelves or books in the old space, the students remember what it looked like since the new space has been open for under a year. We talked about the functions that both spaces fulfill in addition to the more subtle message that each space conveyed to visitors about how to exist in the space and what it means to study and acquire knowledge.

I also suggested about thinking about their catapult as art pieces and asked them to consider in what type of museum or exhibit it would belong–to take inspiration from that discipline/time period/aesthetic in their design. I am also designing a new catapult.


Let the designing begin!


So, I’ve been thinking about collaboration. Sometimes you work so hard to get some particular collaboration going, set the ground work, spend lots of time meeting, work out elaborate schedules, etc. Other times, the project just falls into your lap or appears fully formed, like Athena from Zeus’ forehead.

Yesterday, I received an email from a new colleague in the lower school, subject line: Ancient Sumer. Do you not get emails with that subject line?

Hi Wendy,

We are going to begin our unit on Ancient Sumer.  I was planning on breaking the class into 6 groups and each group will research a different topic.  They will then have to create 2-3 artifacts that pertain to their topic and we are going to create a class museum.  Would there be a way that each group could print one of their artifacts on the 3D printer?

Let me know your thoughts!

I jumped at the idea. First of all, I used to teach that content, so I have a strange fondness for it, given that Ancient Sumer is otherwise an unusual favorite topic. Anyway, I started replying right away with details about the software we use, how we might have a class account to navigate the issue students under 13, and how 3D printing can go awry.

When 3D Prints go wrong. (CCO image by me)

When 3D Prints go wrong. (CCO image by me)

Then, a different idea popped into my head, and I switched gears mid-email.

Or, here’s another idea. My digital fabrication classes are getting pretty good at designing. Your students could make drawings or models of the artifacts and meet with my students (could be virtually by Skype or whatever) and my students could do the designing in the software. I have a few students who are really pretty good at it. Would the 5th graders like being able to “order” a piece? It might highlight the need for clear description and communication skills.

Well a few more emails and we were set. I am so excited.

I told one of my sections today that some 5th graders were going to be hiring them to design artifacts. I forgot to use air quotes when I said hiring, and there was some initial discussion of money changing hands, but I set them straight on their pro bono situation.

There are several things I love about this idea. First, it is an interesting way to have meaningful cross-division interaction. As a Prek-12 school on two campuses, we always want to build connections between students in our lower school and those in our middle and upper schools. Second, it is a real project. There are real-live students with a real-life need for these 3D-printed objects. My students will be able to see the museum exhibit that they contribute work to. Finally, if some of my students are considering taking our Engineering course in later years, this is a project is a great preparation or trial.

I can’t wait to get started.

So, I’ve been thinking about the fun things I can do with the lasercutter in our makerspace. I had planned to spend Mondays in the Makersapce over the summer. #MakerspaceMondays was my idea. It was a good idea, but it didn’t happen that way. I’m now trying to make up for lost Mondays.

I had in mind a lot of natural shapes–trees, leaves, plants, etc. I imagined cutting these shapes in felt and then maybe leather, because I saw  some really lovely work by a crafter at a local festival. She hand cut leather into necklaces, using great patterns–everything from natural shapes to pirate ship. However, I had already spent my money by the time I got to her booth. Time to improvise. I figured I could start in felt and see in anything deserved to move up to leather.

I searched for pubic domain images in vector graphic form on Pixabay and went from there. My first attempt was a tree that was a very complex. Then, I went the other extreme and tried some very simple shapes: teacups.

Then I tried a group of trees in several colors. I also tried remixing the trees and backgrounds. This is definitely not a final product, but I’ll keep them around for something.


Then, I tried combining images into big panels. First I tried this strategy with snowflakes. My plan here was to make a large bib sort of thing. I cut both white and black felt. Not bad. There’s something to work with there.

Finally I decided I should go back to leaves, but start with the real thing. So, I stepped outside, collected a few leaves, arranged them in an arc, and then traced it in a good, dark sharpie so that I could take a picture, put it into Adobe Illustrator, and then cut. It’s a good start. Too wide, but I can adjust the shape.


I used the StichPic app to combine the images.

And in keeping with my previous projects (my taxonomy projects), I have five versions of similar work. I am definitely finding that keeping this habit of making 5 of something to be really helpful. It keeps me working on a particular idea longer, which of course means that I make more progress either in my understanding of a tool, my thinking about an idea, or my ability to combine them both.

Hooray for making.



makerspaceSo, I’ve been thinking about the makerspace at my school. I’ve written about it a lot already this school year. Over the summer we moved into a new (to us) space and got fun new machines. As much as I love to go in and make things, I think the intent was really for students to use the space, not just me.

To that end, we in the makerspace have talked a lot about how to get students in the door. Our experience has been that once we get students in, they come back, but we have to get them in first. I am not at all above a little slight-of-hand to make that happen. Nothing really devious, but I will certainly twist some arms, drop what I am doing, and/or try things that may lead to fire. I have lasercut books (sometimes, but not always, fire), orange peels, and chocolate in addition to the regular wood and cardboard.

Some students have reason to come in because their class meets in the room. At the moment, Engineering, Robotics, Java, Digital Fabrication, and Design Fabrication all meet in the space. If this sounds like there must not be much time left, only Engineering and Java are major classes. The others are minor classes so they only meet a few times a rotation (2 meetings in 7 school days). In addition, a few student-led activities meet there. We have an activity period mid day on Wednesdays and Thursdays and a group of students started a design club. I’m not sure what they do, but I think it’s 3D design stuff. Finally, an after-school Science Olympiad group has formed to meet student interest and they have joined the excitement.

One thing that has been a lucky coincidence is that @Mr_Fornaro who is in charge of the space also teaches Statistics, and students come in to get extra help from him. Once they are here, even though they may have come for math help, they get some makerspace demonstration. It’s the freebie that comes with stats help.

We have a few students who are involved in ‘makerships’ which is our markerspace-internship mashup. These students come in twice a rotation both to learn how to use the machines and to work independently. It’s exciting to see these folks engage in all sorts of work. We have a couple of individuals who are really becoming experts on either the laser cutter or other tools. They are almost to a point where they could supervise the space for short periods of time. So exciting!

In the late fall/early winter we tried a few pop-up activities to entice students to come in and make things. We got a few takers, but it wasn’t a great return on investment.

However, this spring attendance is up. I can’t necessarily explain it. I attributing most of it to the pattern described in the 1980’s shampoo commercial “she told two friends, and they told two friends.” While we have not gotten too far removed from the second or maybe third set of original friends, we do have confident students in the space who attract others and can begin to support them once they get there.

A solid first year!